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Tiantai County Holiday Foods
Holidays and Celebrations
Winter Volume: 2010 Issue: 17(4) page(s): 5, 6, 7, and 8
China's five thousand year civilization includes many festival celebrations. These holidays include conventional and intergenerational social activities and events, some fixed or not, others with a specific theme and various activities, some with special foods in special regions. This article looks at six traditional celebrations associated with holidays in Tiantai and it writes about their historical and cultural significance and some of the foods served during these happy occasions. Tiantai is a small county in China's Zhejiang province south of Shanghai; there is a map on this page to show exactly where it is. This area is very mountainous with more than eighty percent of its land mass mountains (82.3%). The population here is more than half a million people, some 560,000 at the most recent census.
In Taintai they love holidays, particularly ones they deem important. These include:
SPRING FESTIVAL is the first holiday each year. It is commonly known as Chinese New Year. The date is determined by China's lunar calendar, and it is the most important traditional festival for Chinese here, in this province, and all over China. Activities related to Chinese New Year are many, with dietary differences common by ethnicity and geographaphy. During this festival, people in Taintai like to drink Spring liquor, eat cakes and dumplings, and enjoy many other special foods.
In the Tiantai area, this festival season generally means the days between the last day of last year's twelfth lunar month and the eighth day of the first month of the New Year. Before and during those days, every household cleans up, stocks up, and jubilantly prepares for Chinese New Year. Many actually begin doing so on the twenty-fourth day of the last month of the previous year.
On New Year's Eve, each household likes to eat a special food called nian fan. In Tiantai, their nian fan are different from those loved in other Northern Chinese areas. While dumplings are popular in the north, in Tiantai their local flavored and favored ones are very popular and called jiao bing tong. They are barrel-shaped, some say cigar-shaped, and they can be as long as twenty-five centimeters or ten inches.
The outside of jiao bing tong are made of flour and water. When filled, they are rolled and shaped as are many paper-thin tortilla-type foods. Then, they are cooked on a particular local utensil which some folks from this area call an 'iron chelate.'
The insides of these jiao bing tong can be filled with various mixtures that can include pork, liver, eggs, tofu, and/or other things. These foods for the interiors are cut into small pieces and then mixed with cut-up enoki mushrooms, which are botanically known as Flamma velutipes or items the locals call 'needle mushrooms.' Other items can also be used for the fillings and might include bamboo shoots, seaweed, mushrooms, bean sprouts etc. After mixing them together, these fillings are put on the dough, rolled, and fried. The filled wrappers are shown on this page on an iron chelate.
The fifteen days of New Year activities technically start on the first morning of first month of the New Year, but they really begin the night before with a family get-together called the 'Reunion Dinner.' Then on New Year's Day, relatives and friends say 'Happy New Year' to one another, and generally invite folks to drink tea and/or wine together. On this first day of the month, fruit wine is ready to enjoy. In this area, households with their eldest son born during the past year have the right to start the drinking of this fruit wine.
On the second day, families who had a funeral during the past year accept condolences from friends and relatives. On the third and fourth days, the whole family goes to visit elder relatives such as their grandma and their uncles. Dinner between friends and relatives begins starting with the fifth day and can be any day between then and the fifteenth day of this first month of the New Year.
In Tiantai, there are special local foods consumed the first day of the New Year. Everyone usually eats Five Flavor Porridge for breakfast. It is prepared by the men in the family who mix rice with jujubes, adzuki beans, sweet potatoes, taro, and tofu; they cook these ingredients together.
Historical research tells us that this particular porridge originated with local Buddhist monks of the Taintai sect of Buddhism. They settled north of the town of Tiantai and ate this porridge and prayed for wu fu or longevity and kat cheung or good fortune; also for benevolence, tolerance, and their hope to die serenely and comfortably. Also, when cooking this special mixed porridge, they prayed for a bumper grain harvest.
The area around Tiantai is the home of one sect of Buddhism, and therefore, many people here believe in this form of Buddhism. The monks and other religious people also pray for a fine day and that it be tranquill throughout the year. They hope all people can live in peace, and they also pray for that.
Should you wonder why men cook this Five-flavor Porridge, it is because males represent yang and this porridge is considered a yang food. As to specifically how they cook it, they simply boil it in a pot. They want this porridge to meet people's needs for the first New Year's day's breakfast so they usually make enough for the second day, even the third day, as well.
In Tiantai, people always eat jiao bing tong for lunch and bian shi for supper. Bian shi are similar to the dumplings of the north and wontons in the south, but with their own characteristics. These are unique foods in Tiantai with their skin or exterior thinner than the exteriors of dumplings, but a little thicker than the exteriors of wontons. Their insides are a mix of items such as pork, radish, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, dried bean curd, mushrooms, beans, eggs, peanuts etc. Some say they look like wontons but have local-flavor.
The bian shi fillings are cut into small squares and stir-fried, then mixed with the right amount of minced onions. They are made into what locals call, the shape of ears. They can be boiled, steamed, baked, or fried, and local people like them because they taste terrific and are easily digested.
YUAN XIAO is the second most important festival of the year. It is also known as Lantern Festival or the Festival of Lights. The origin of this festival may have begun with the ancient idea that humans used torches to drive away evil spirits. Later Yuan Xiao evolved into Lantern Festival. In earlier days, this festival included worshiping God. In a book called The Records of the Historian, also in a volume known as The Book of Music, one reads about this worship, done at night when torches were used.
There and elsewhere, one can read of a rebellion of Lv, the family name of one of the wives of Liu Bang. In the Han Dynasty, he was pacificied on the fifteenth day of the New Year. After that, Emperor Han Wu ordered that this day, his day, be enjoyed with the public. That may be one reason why Lantern Festival celebrations expanded and became more important. After the Tang Dynasty, this festival became quite lively especially during the night of Yuan Xiao or Lantern Festival evening.
In Tiantai, Lantern Festival is different than in other areas of China. One reason is that it is scheduled on the fourteenth day of the month. Another is that people mainly eat something called 'spicy and boiled paste' on that day. This 'spicy and boiled paste' is a special food put into their soup. It can be made with many different flours such as lotus root starch and/or sweet potato flour, and it includes meat, bamboo shoots, spinach, tofu, mushrooms, and other foods cooked together with cut up pig ears, black fungus, and turtle. In addition, other things can be cut into very tiny pieces to look like grains. Some people add longan, jujube and pieces of other fruit to make their soup sweet.
One interesting thing about this festival day is that people used to leave their doors open when they ate their spicy boiled paste soup. They did that to welcome guests to enjoy it with them. Also, in olden days, people in Tiantai went to taste spicy and boiled paste in many other homes to learn which housewife's dish was the best. This enhanced feelings for community, meant that they could get rid of being lazy and pull themselves together, and that they could be ready to put their heart into the entire New Year and into their neighbors.
DRAGON PAYABLE DAY is the holiday celebration that occurs on February 2nd of the New Year. The ancients always held prayer worship of Ryujin on this day. They scattered powdered ash around the house as they prayed for a good harvest. Also on this day, in Tiantai, they were accustomed to eating fried summer zong zi. The custom to do so originated when one farmer who worked in the field saw it raining, and he felt cold and hungry. He went home to warm up and dry his clothes, and while there buried his leftover zong zi in ashes. When taken out, he found them grilled and his clothes dried. They smelled delicious, he felt comfortable after he ate them, and his behavior became a local custom.
CHING MING FESTIVAL comes later in the year. In China, this celebration is also known as Halloween, as Ming Festival, or as Smart Section Festival. It was one of twenty-four solar times, later called the Cold Food Festival, and later still it became Ching Ming Festival. Gradually it became an important holiday and now everywhere in China it is celebrated and known as Ching Ming. During this holiday, children and women in some areas of Zhejiang collect wild shepherds purse and green grass and make a dumpling-like food called Ching Ming Guo.
People in Tiantai always eat Ching Ming cakes during this festival. They make them of the leaves of a plant called jing, and mix this with glutinous rice flour. They clean these tender leaves, immerse them in boiling water, and knead them with rice flour on a stone utensil. This stone has a hole in its middle; no one knows why. Then they coat the guo with mashed kumquats and brown sugar. They make them with a special wooden tool.
On this holiday, in addition to Ching Ming cakes, they eat other dumplings filled with meat, bamboo shoots, dried bean curd, and salty stuffings. These guo are made in the same dumpling shape as are northern dumplings. Local people call them 'cyanine' and/or Chine Ming dumplings.
During the Ching Ming Festival, the main activity is to pay respects to deceased relatives. Called shang fen, they do so in the Tiantai tradition. People, rich or poor, visit the tombs of their deceased relatives and place offerings in wooden nine-section plates filling them with all kinds of foods.
Cyanine dumplings and sea snails are indispensable offeriengs. Then, after they finish worshipping, a handful of every dish they bring is put with rice soup that they also brought along, and thrown on the ground. They do this to let wandering spirits enjoy their food; and they do it to avoid harassment from their ancestors. At the end of their worship, the sea snails are distributed to everyone there and they eat and enjoy them.
MID-AUTUMN DAY, also known as 'Reunion Day,' is during the eighth moon or month. During the Zhou Dynasty, people offered sacrifices to the moon every night beginning on August 15th. In the Jin Dynasty, gazing at the full moon was the activity of this day; and during the Tang Dynasty, this activity continued. In the Song Dynasty, this festival was officially designated as the Mid-Autumn Festival, cakes made to represent the meaning of this reunion. By the Ming Dynasty they were called moon cakes and also presented as gifts.
In Tiantai, people celebate August 16 as Mid-Autumn Festival. Why then? Because Zhu Yuanzhang, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, used moon cakes to communicate with his troops. Therefore, Mid-Autumn Festival was held on August 16 so that Tiantai people could remember this ancient festival with their moon-cakes. Women, specially, offered sacrifices to the moon because the moon is yin or female.
DOUBLE NINTH FESTIVAL is also known as September 9th or Climbing Festival. For this festival, people in Tiantai always make chong yang cakes. In Chinese, the word for 'cake' and the word for 'high' have the same pronunciation; it is gao. The cakes they make are prepared with equal parts of indica and glutinous rices, both ground into flour and blended together. They are then stirred with brown sugar and water, and poured into a layer in a fan zeng, a wooden drum-shaped steaming device. On top they sprinkle a layer of seaweed. After cooking this, they divide this cake into small blocks and some are mixed with red juice. They call these tang gao and they are sweet and tasty.
There are many other festivals in Tiantai. On those days many other delicious foods are made and enjoyed. We welcome you to viist Tiantai to taste these delicious foods and celebrate one or all of these and the other festivals with us.
So that you can easily remember our foods, here is a list of them followed by a few recipes that you can try and enjoy our food.
Jiao bing tong are made with flour, pork, liver, eggs, tofu, needle mushrooms, bamboo shoots, seaweed, mushrooms, bean sprouts etc.
Five flavors porridge is made with rice, jujubes, adzuki beans, sweet potatoes, taro, and tofu
Bian shi are made using flour, pork, radish, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, dried bean curd, mushrooms, beans, eggs, peanuts etc.
Spicy and boiled paste uses water chestnuts, lotus root starch and/or sweet potato flour, meat, bamboo shoots, Sichuan beans, spinach, tofu, mushrooms and other foods
Zong zi are made with glutinous rice flour, beans, meat, chestnuts, soy sauce, dates, etc.
Ching Ming guo also known as Ching Ming cakes use plant leaves called jing, glutinous rice flour, mashed kumquats, and brown sugar
Cyanine dumplings are Ching Ming dumplings that use plant leaves called jing, glutinous rice flour, meat, bamboo shoots, dried bean curd and other salty stuffings
Chong yang cakes are made with indica rice, glutinous rice, brown sugar, and seaweed
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